Food and Nutrition

The 10 Best Breakfast Foods for Improving Your Mood and Emotional Well-Being, According to Dietitians

Erin Bunch

Photo: Stocksy/Studio Firma
Some people hop out of bed and greet the day with a smile; to those people, I say, "&*%$#." Others of us need a little pick-me-up in the morning, and while coffee can add a little pep to your step, it's not the only means for boosting your mood in the AM. At breakfast, you can make certain dietary choices to help improve your emotional state, too.

"In all honestly, no one can say that eating any one breakfast will immediately make you feel great; however there are nutrients that over time are important for our mental health," says Keri Gans, MS, RDN, author of The Small Change Diet. "What we can probably say is that if you are a little 'blah' and tired, perhaps the right breakfast can give you a little boost of energy to start your day."

Gans offers an example of just such a breakfast, too: 100 percent whole grain toast with avocado, sliced tomato, and smoked salmon with a serving of raspberries. Her breakdown of why each ingredient in that meal is on the list of mood-boosting breakfast foods is included below, along with additional recommendations from nutrition expert Kim Rose, RDN, CDCES, CNSC.

10 mood-boosting breakfast foods to eat each AM for a happier, healthier emotional well-being

1. 100 percent whole grain bread 

"100 percent whole grain bread is a good source of B vitamins, which are important for brain health and which help our bodies metabolize carbohydrates, which give us energy," Gans says. B vitamin supplementation has also been shown to help individuals cope with stress and boost mood overall, but if you can, the experts recommend getting your fix from foods first.

2. Avocado

Avocado contains folate, and a deficiency in folate has been linked to depression, Gans explains. It's also high in antioxidants, which may also be protective against depression.

3. Tomatoes 

"Tomatoes are rich in the antioxidant lycopene and have also been associated with a potentially lower risk of depression," says Gans.

4. Smoked salmon 

Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory benefits that may play a role in brain health and reduce your risk for mild to moderate depression, says Gans, and Rose agrees. She explains that a type of omega-3 fatty acid found in cold water fish like salmon—docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—is required for brain development and throughout all stages of life. It may also have an influence on serotonin, a hormone that helps modulate moods. "Ingesting DHA can therefore be a great asset to your day," Rose says. "Upping your DHA intake is as simple as adding four ounces of salmon to a piece of avocado toast. Do this and your mood will thank you." 

5. Raspberries (and blueberries, too) 

Raspberries are packed with fiber, Gans explains, and fiber is known to digest slowly in our bodies, which results in more stable blood sugars. Unstable blood sugar—meaning sharp spikes and drops—has been linked to negative moods, which is why stabilizing your glucose levels can help level out your emotional state.

The flavonoids in blueberries, meanwhile, have been specifically shown to improve your emotional state—so they're a good berry option when it comes to mood-boosting breakfast foods, too.

6. Shiitake Mushrooms

Rose also recommends adding mushrooms into this mix in the morning. "Shiitake mushrooms may help to improve your mood status, as the vitamin D found in them may decrease depressive symptoms," she says. "This is why you should consider making mushrooms an addition to your day." For breakfast, she recommends sautéing shiitake mushrooms along with other veggies to have inside an omelet, but you can simply sauté them as a side to your salmon-avocado-tomato toast, too. 

7. Mood-regulating adaptogens

"If you haven’t heard, adaptogens are all the rage," says Rose. "They're edible plants that have been shown to help the brain and body adapt in stressful situations." One specific adaptogen she recommends at breakfast time is rhodiola. "Rhodiola may help the body respond to stressful situations by functioning as a mood stabilizer that decreases symptoms of depression," she says. And because adaptogens aren't always the yummiest to consume, she prefers her daily dose in Elements Vitality drink. "It's a delicious source of clinically-effective rhodiola," she says. "Also, its tea-like flavor makes a compatible addition to any breakfast dish and a great way to start the morning."

IMO, there's no harm in eating your morning rhodiola in the form of this trail mix chocolate bark, too.

8. Yogurt

There is mounting evidence that probiotic foods, like yogurt, help boost mood by improving the composition of your gut microbiome. If you're not a fan of yogurt, you could opt instead to add kimchi to your scrambled eggs, make a breakfast miso soup, or drink kombucha with your morning meal.

9. Oatmeal

Oats are super high in soluble fiber, which means they, like berries, help to regulate your blood sugar to regulate mood. They also contain the mood-boosting mineral selenium. “Oats also have a special fiber called beta-glucan which has been implicated in lowering cholesterol,” Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, previously told Well+Good.

10. Chia

Like salmon, chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which aid in brain health and mood regulation. They're also a good source of magnesium, a calming mineral that has been shown to help with sleep. "Low levels [of magnesium] are linked to depression," Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, founder of Real Nutrition previously told Well+Good. The same goes for anxiety—when you're deficient in magnesium, you might start feeling more anxious, so that's a telling sign that you could benefit from adding more chia seeds to your meals. Upping your intake can have positive effects on everything from anxiety to insomnia and PMS symptoms. At breakfast, they can be easily mixed into oatmeal, overnight oats, or smoothies.

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